Looking Back: iPad for Education?

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Life on the BPS EdTech Team is often lived in an extremely fast paced environment. We don’t usually have the time to analyze everything or look back at where we have come from or what we have accomplished. I often talk about the importance of taking a step back from time to time though. We must look at our thought process, our decision making, and our challenges in order to remain focused on the ultimate goals of student growth and engagement.

After watching Apple’s most recent keynote, I decided to look back at a post I wrote in March 2010 about the potential of iPads in education. At the time, I was the School Librarian for our middle school and the post was published a couple of weeks before the first generation iPad was released. Although we have now witnessed the incredible infusion of iPads and tablet technology into our schools, we must continue to follow one of the strongest beliefs that our BPS EdTech team has lived by:

Keep buying and testing new devices – keep trying new things – don’t allow anything – even the success of current edtech programs – to stop you from remaining focused on continuing to seek out the best edtech options and resources for your students and teachers.

From the original BPS IT blog – March 17, 2010

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As I have written on this blog before, I love working with technology at Marshall Simonds Middle School in Burlington. However, I am sometimes frustrated by factors that can make the process more difficult. Some of these frustrations are:

1. The fact that we need to use so many different devices to accomplish collaborative projects in the classroom.

2. Not having enough devices, especially Internet connected devices, for each student to use.

3. Trying to use software that really doesn’t fit the project, curriculum, or collaborative needs of the students and teachers.

4. Trying to use devices and software that can be difficult to use with kids.

5. Spending too much time talking about all the devices.

These frustrations are not, in any way, isolated to the Burlington Public Schools. These are the frustrations that many educators in our country share. In most school systems, budgets or the lack of vision cause these frustrations to intensify. Although budgets can be an issue for us as well, we are lucky to have people in place with the right kind of vision for growth in technology in our school system.

I suppose it’s a bit of a dream and based somewhat on my preference for Apple products, but I think that the new iPad could be a solution to many of the frustrations I described. In fact, I think that the iPad could be a revolutionary device for education. I do think that laptops or minis are a great way to engage students using technology but I believe that the iPad will be more powerful in the classroom.

The iPad would allow our students to have ONE device for almost everything that they need for day-to-day lessons and activities in the classroom. The iPad could also allow us to expand the classroom and continue the education anywhere by having students use an Internet connected device that can tap into the cloud based resources we are implementing here in Burlington.

Here is a breakdown of some the positives and negatives about the iPad:

Digital textbooks on the iPad will provide a drastic change in how teachers can use their curriculum area books for classroom lessons and projects. Almost every major textbook publishing company, including all those that we use here in Burlington, are spending vast research and development money on the production of books specifically geared towards use on the iPad. These textbooks will be fully interactive and include embedded video, audio, web links, assessment opportunities, and discussion portals.

The iPad textbooks could also save money. Traditional textbooks average between $70 and $100. The iPad textbooks will cost less to buy and require less to maintain. As a Library Media Specialist, I am often rebinding, sending books out for rebinding, or purchasing replacements. The iPad will end this practice and provide schools with the opportunity to update all the time. Instead of purchasing new sets every few years, these new digital books will update information as needed, and many publishing companies have already stated that these updates will be free.

Another growing concern in public education has been the problems associated with students carrying books back and forth from school. While I understand that having students carry a device like the iPad back an forth could create some new concerns, it seems more productive than worrying about what books and how many books are in a student’s backpack everyday.

Collaborative education is more critical than ever in our schools. I know we have all heard it before – we must prepare our students for the global economy – we must prepare them for jobs that will require 21st century skills. But how often do we really spend time preparing students for these needs? How often do we really incorporate lessons that do this? And aren’t those 21st century skills that we haven’t completely taught yet going to be outdated soon? While I do think that having our students work with any Internet based device can help with these needs, I believe that the iPad could be the best choice yet.

Imagine a classroom where all the students are connected to the Wi-Fi on a device that has their textbook, access to all those embedded resources, and can be used to take notes, save Internet content, and most importantly share information with the teacher and other students instantly. Yes, these things can be done on a laptop or mini, but I don’t think they can be done nearly as easily or as efficiently.

Purchasing digital ebooks as textbooks may be the biggest downfall for a laptop in the classroom.These textbooks rarely have the kinds of embedded resources that the iPad books will contain. While the iPad reading experience may never be as good as traditional books, it appears to be a much better device for reading than a laptop or mini.

Student interest is also an important positive for me. I taught geography and history classes before I moved to the library position I have now. I always felt that if I could make the subject material more interesting, students would learn the material more effectively. Students truly learn when they are doing things that they enjoy. The use of technology like the iPad can often make students forget that they are even doing some of the things they often shut down with during more traditional instruction. I think most educators believe the same thing but not enough use the kinds of technology that kids care about in their curriculum as a way to accomplish this. I found that by using technology (that kids don’t even see as technology – things they see as just normal daily practice) students were more engaged. When I added new technology to classroom activities, the coolness factor also raised engagement. I think iPads will do some of both. Kids are connected all the time to Internet based digital devices like the iPod Touch. The iPad could help make their transition to educational use of technology easy and fun. Incorporating the iPad may help with this more than a laptop could.

The iPad may also allow us, as educators, to take a big step towards accepting digital resources in the classroom and help us prepare students for the potentially dangerous uses of technology. We can work on educating students more about the Internet, teach them how to be savvy about putting out personal information, try to stop them from using technology for bullying, and prepare them for a society in which the Internet will be included in nearly every activity they will face as an adult.

If we allow our students to use the iPad in class, it can reduce the stigmatism associated with kids using devices like cell phones while in school. Yes, students will find a way to use the iPad to communicate with each other about topics far more important to them than math class, but they will also communicate about topics from math class.

Paper consumption may be considered a less important detail, but having students perform educational tasks on an iPad could significantly reduce the need for paper in our classrooms. Obviously, we could purchase less paper products by moving away from traditional textbooks. Teachers and students can set up blogs, Nings, or wikis to share documents. The use of cloud based services like Google Docs or our new BLINK system will also help. I realize that this kind of change takes time and that our teachers will need to work on the implementation. I also realize that many teachers need help with this, but having a paperless classroom, or at least one that significantly reduces the amount of paper being used, really isn’t that difficult to accomplish.

I have found that even though most of the world is trying to communicate digitally, schools are the by far the worst at this practice and drastically behind the business world. We spend too much time, effort, and money, creating materials digitally that just get copied on a Riso or Xerox machine.Whether the materials are for classroom use or public communication, we need to look at better ways to restrain paper consumption in our schools.

The lack of some features will make the iPad, at least the first generation version, less powerful in the classroom. The lack of Flash support while using the iPad’s web browser will be an issue when trying to access many educational websites. The lack of a camera will also mean that my frustration with multiple devices won’t completely go away. The lack of a dedicated USB port will be an inconvenience but something that can be overcome with additional accessories. The possibility of damage and theft will also be a potential issue but so will having our students use laptops or minis.

The verdict on the iPad is still a long way away. The first generation of the device is scheduled to ship in early April, so we have a lot of time to see if the iPad will revolutionize anything. I am betting it will. I believe it could be the best technology tool for education that I have seen in my lifetime. Ultimately, I think that the iPad could solve many of my biggest frustrations and help us to stop taking about all the devices and get to work with our students.

This article has 2 Comments

  1. This is truly a phenomenal post, Dennis. I, too, share your struggles and victories. I am blessed to be working in a school which equips our students to be effective lifelong learners in this 21st century. Thanks for your continuous support and for all that you do to make our jobs efficient. You’re part of a great team!!

    1. Thank you Susan. I hope that you realize how much our team appreciates teachers like you who are always so willing to take risks and try new lessons and projects with technology in the classroom.

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